AOC is heckled, makes it a teaching moment on how funding cuts are designed to divide us.

AOC was hosting a town hall in her district and was talking about public schools. She talked about her dad getting into Brooklyn Tech (one of the selective NYC high schools). AOC then asks why every school can’t be like Brooklyn Tech, why NYC only has a handful of such selective high schools. She was heckled by some attendees who oppose changes to the testing program for these schools.

And this is the special moment, she points out that in many, many areas of public services, we have created an environment of scarcity. This ends up pitting communities against each other for resources. Instead, she suggests we should make the fight for more resources across the board, rather than fighting over scraps because funding has been slashed, and we’re letting plutocrats get away with rampant tax evasion aided by corrupt politicians. That’s not hyperbole, both the former NY Assembly Speaker and the NY Senate leader are in prison for corruption. 

It’s worth watching how AOC turns this conversation around, arguing that we bake a bigger and better public services pie rather than fight over small pieces of it.

As background, there is an enormous controversy around the schools at the moment. The chancellor and mayor wants to modify the way admissions are handled. Students currently take a standardized test (the SHSAT) to enter 8 of the 9 schools. The ninth school is Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Laguardia admits incoming high-school students based on an audition or a review of their work. 

To improve diversity among the student body at the eight other schools, various proposals have been floated for alternate arrangements. Here’s one pitched by the mayor which is being challenged by a conservative, anti-affirmative action group:

Currently, specialized schools enroll tiny percentages of black and Hispanic students, even though those students make up about 70 percent of the school system. This past year, only 10 black students were offered seats at Stuyvesant High School, the most competitive of the eight test-in specialized schools.

Discovery allows mostly low-income students who just miss the cutoff for entry to enroll in summer classes aimed at preparing them for the schools’ academic rigor.

The current version of Discovery sets aside 6 percent of seats at specialized high schools for students who come from low-income families. Mr. de Blasio’s plan would expand that to 20 percent of seats at each specialized school, and require schools to reserve seats for more vulnerable students who not only come from low-income families but also attend high-poverty schools. — www.nytimes.com/…

The parents of some kids at these schools have opposed such moves. The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a conservative outfit founded by former Reagan staffers has filed a challenge to the plans. PLF has previously challenged affirmative action and de-segregation policies in other states. 

Some aren’t pleased with the idea. Their view is that it would kill off a straightforward assessment of merit that applies across schools—the test is an objective measure, they say, and can’t be gamed the way interviews or grades can be, which can reward kids who are richer and/or white.

More specifically, de Blasio’s proposal has upset many Asian parents in particular and a great number of (though certainly not all) alumni and current students. Asian parents’ opposition to scrapping the test probably has something to do with the fact that, as data provided to us by the city’s Department of Education shows, 30 percent of Asian applicants in 2018 received offers to a specialized school, accounting for more than half of all offers. (And Asians are the minority group with the highest poverty rate in the city.) And there are plenty of elite public high schools across the country, but none are test-only, and none have the reputation nationally or internationally that New York’s specialized high schools do; many of the opponents of getting rid of the test believe—probably not incorrectly—that these schools’ reputation is in part a function of the formidable test. — www.theatlantic.com/…


— @subirgrewal

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